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How Gov. Gavin Newsom is progressing on his key policy promises for California

WASHINGTON DC FEBRUARY 24, 2019 -- California Gov. Gavin Newsom races between meetings at the Natio
California Gov. Gavin Newsom races between meetings at the National Governors Assn. conference at the Marriott Marquis hotel in Washington, D.C., on Sunday.
(Phil Willon / Los Angeles Times)

In his first 100 days in office, California Gov. Gavin Newsom quickly set about launching parts of the progressive agenda he promised during his campaign.

On the day Newsom was sworn into office, the Democrat vowed to expand Medi-Cal coverage for immigrants in the country illegally and drive down the high cost of prescription drugs.

Since then, Newsom has also promised to expand paid family leave, tax credits for low-income workers and early childhood education. He vowed to modernize the state Department of Motor Vehicles, crack down on cities that refused to plan for adequate housing and retool California’s high-speed rail system, which has been plagued by cost overruns.

Newsom also worked behind the scenes to help settle the teachers’ strike in Los Angeles, inflamed California’s feud with President Trump by pulling national guard troops from the U.S.-Mexico border and traveled to Washington, New York and El Salvador.

Susan Kennedy, who served as chief of staff to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and cabinet secretary to Gov. Gray Davis, said one of the most significant moments of Newsom’s first 100 days was his decision to impose a moratorium on the death penalty, for which he won the praise of criminal justice advocates and drew the ire of death penalty supporters, who said the governor defied the will of California voters who refused to abolish the death penalty in a 2016 statewide vote.

“It showed understanding, strategically, of how you set the table as to what people should expect of him. It gave him credibility,” Kennedy said. “He knew he was going to get the crap kicked out of him.”

Here are some of the key moments of Newsom’s first chapter as California governor, including the promises made, action taken or not taken, and what could come next.


Healthcare

Newsom promised to consolidate the purchase of prescription drugs by state government agencies. He signed an executive order to have state agencies begin studying how to implement the drug purchasing system and what drugs to prioritize for bulk purchases. On Wednesday, Newsom announced that Los Angeles County would join the coalition of state agencies in drug purchasing.

The governor has promised to expand access to Medi-Cal, the government-funded healthcare program for low-income Californians, to immigrants up to age 26 who entered in U.S. illegally.

The proposal was included in Newsom’s budget and remains under consideration by the Legislature.

Newsom also said he would create a state-level “individual mandate” requiring Californians to have health insurance coverage in lieu of the federal requirement under the Affordable Care Act that was all but eliminated last year by Congress.

The proposal is under consideration in the Legislature.


Criminal justice

In March, Newsom imposed a temporary moratorium on the death penalty that will remain in effect while he’s in office by issuing an executive order granting reprieves to every inmate on California’s death row.

The governor has promised to end the state’s use of private prisons. But making room for inmates now held in private facilities will depend on vacancies opening up in California prisons.

Newsom promised in January to shift control of California’s Juvenile Justice Division away from corrections officials to government health and human services providers.

Additional details have not been released. The change will require action by the Legislature, which is pending.


Housing and homelessness

Newsom proposed $1.3 billion in state funds for cities and counties as a financial incentive to plan for new homes and support local homeless housing efforts.

The governor proposed spending $500 million to help local governments build shelters and add services to help the homeless.

In his first days in office, Newsom threatened to withhold state transportation dollars generated by the recent gas tax increase from communities that fail to follow housing plans — though the plan won't take effect until 2023.

As part of his aggressive push on housing, Newsom has also promised programs to help spark the building of 3.5 million new homes between 2019 and 2025.

The governor also said he would ask for $500 million in voluntary contributions from Silicon Valley companies to build affordable housing to match the money he’s proposed in the budget for the development of middle-income housing. Administration officials have been meeting with Silicon Valley leaders to discuss a possible agreement.


Infrastructure

In his State of the State speech, Newsom said he would rethink the path forward for California’s high speed rail system by limiting the the train to a Bakersfield to Merced route at the outset, then reassessing the other sections of the beleaguered effort to link the Bay Area to Los Angeles and beyond.

In that same speech, Newsom said he would make good on a promise telegraphed during his campaign to downsize the twin water tunnel project in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to a single new tunnel that would help transport water from the north to the south. Action on the tunnels will be included in a comprehensive water policy proposal that Newsom plans to release in the near future.


Social programs

The governor hopes to expand California’s paid family leave program from six weeks of partial pay to six months for new parents and those caring for ailing family members.

Newsom said he would partly finance the effort by dipping into the existing cash reserves held by the state program. Newsom’s proposed budget included funding for the early steps of this program, and the overall concept is under consideration in the Legislature.

Newsom has proposed expanding the state’s earned income tax credit for low-income families to provide up to $1 billion in cash payments, to be paid out of the state’s general fund. The proposal was included in Newsom’s budget, which is now under consideration in the Legislature.

During the partial government shutdown in January, Newsom offered state unemployment benefits to Transportation Security Administration workers. Those workers don’t pay into the state program, but Newsom insisted it was important to help those Californians amid a federal spending battle between President Trump and House Democrats.


Immigration

The governor in February rescinded orders for the California National Guard to aid federal officials in duties along the U.S.-Mexico border, redeploying roughly 360 service members to support wildfire prevention efforts and expand operations to counter drugs and cartels across California. Newsom decided to keep a deployment of guard members trained in spotting narcotics at the state’s international ports of entry.

Newsom has proposed $25 million in state government assistance for services in California communities that aid refugees and those seeking asylum. He has already fast-tracked $5 million in funding with the remainder proposed in his budget.


Government services

In January, Newsom created a “strike force” tasked with proposing ways to modernize the California DMV. That effort has not yet produced recommendations, but a state audit released last month found problems with implementing the federal Real ID law had led to long wait times reported last summer at DMV offices across the state.


Wildfires

Newsom signed an executive order this month declaring a state of emergency and waived environmental regulations to expedite local forest management projects to prevent future wildfires.

Newsom has promised a comprehensive plan to address wildfire threats and help keep California’s investor-owned utilities out of bankruptcy due to billions of dollars in wildfire-related costs.


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